I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory, but whatever i was that I subconsciously expected, this certainly wasn’t it. In this case, that’s certainly not a criticism however.
For some odd reason I thought it was a Christmas show appropriate for children and whilst there was a somewhat random sing-a-long in the first act (by the grandmother character named Berthe), that was where the panto comparison ended. Well aside from a couple of OTT characters. It also wasn’t exactly a children’s piece, though there were a couple of kids knocking about. The premise was intriguing, a boy playing a game, viewed from inside the game. It’s not exactly a new concept, but it’s not one I’ve really seen before. That said I’m not entirely sure I ‘got it’. It was interesting and I very much enjoyed it as a show, but I’m not sure I quite understood the overall point. If anyone would like to offer an insight, I’m all ears. My best guess is some sort of deep message about the fact that perfection doesn’t exist but love is as close to it as it’s possible to get. Also, don’t waste your life playing video games, but that might just be my skewed interpretation. All that said, I’m guessing it was meant to be rather surreal, in which case perhaps one is not meant to ‘get it’.
Anyhoo, as a show, I adored it. The set was fabulous, all concrete colours and green lasers. The outside of the theatre was set up as the boy’s bedroom, contrasting with the set rather nicely, dark vs light and all that. There was also a sensor at the door that made lasery sort of noises with a computerised voice saying ‘player enters the game’ whenever anyone walked in (audience that is, not cast). Silly and a little irritating after a while, but too cool to really criticise.
The costumes were even better, some futuristic, others reminding me of The Tribe (the tv show about the Mall Rats). Fastrada looked absolutely fantastic with a fishnet catsuit under a fancy crop top and a gorgeous multi layer skirt with a huge split. The silver jump suits the chorus wore really didn’t leave much to the imagination, though I found them oddly appealing. Though admittedly I was in the front row and the stage was less than a foot high – so my head was about crotch height. The choreography also included rather a lot of hip thrusting so overall it was a little distracting, I must admit!
The choreography was epic and probably should have made it higher up my list of awesome things about this show. It was Fosse-esque which I’ve always liked anyway, but it just worked really well, even though the eras seemed to clash completely. In fact, I think that might be why it worked so well. A futuristic computer game, set in the middle ages, with a (now) somewhat old-fashioned choreographic style. There is something incredibly sensual and seductive about the way they moved though. There was also the contrast between modern technology and traditional farm life.
The sound was a little off and I found it hard to hear the lyrics over the sound of the band, but the music was cool anyway. I’d like to listen to the soundtrack to get a better impression of it, really. One of the main songs (Corner of the Sky) that they played a few times was lovely though and I was humming it afterwards, well until the music in the bar pushed it from my thoughts, at least, and I ended up back in French musical mode (I’m getting into Adam et Eve at the moment and loving the two singles – which admittedly are the only songs I know).
The cast were brilliant, particularly the dancers, though I liked all the leads too. Harry Hemple was Pippin and had a wonderfully powerful voice. Matt Rawle was billed as the leading player (in the game that was the show), but I think he could also be described as the narrator in a way. I found it hard to understand him when he was singing, but I loved his acting and his dancing wasn’t bad either. There was something about him that I couldn’t put my finger on, but it kept him rather central in my attentions whenever he was on stage. Knowing me, it was probably the over-long hair. Ian Kelsey was the rough and ready Charles and he reminded me a lot of someone but I can’t recall who. I loved David Page as Lewis for several reasons, partly awesome costume related, but mostly skill as a dancer related. He had some great choreography. Frances Ruffelle was the step-mother, Fastrada, and she was suitably cunning. It was also awesome hearing her sing. I recognised Carly Bawden, who played Catherine, but couldn’t place her. According to the programmed she was Genevieve in the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but oddly I still don’t really recognise her. Either way she was a magical dancer, particularly her solo routine that was part ballet, and she’s got a gorgeous voice as well. One of my favourites, I think. Other than that there were a few chorus members who really stood out for me. I thought Anabel Kutay was a stunning dancer, as was Holly James, though her involvement in Hair was enough to ensure that she’s catch my attention. I recognised David McMullan from Ragtime and I thought the way he moved was also brilliant. Finally Ben Bunce seemed to grab my attention whenever he was on stage. A big part of that was his the way he moved as well. He’s a tall guy, but the shapes he made with his body were so fluid, it was beautiful to watch (skin-tight jumpsuit notwithstanding). I did find myself watching his face a lot as well though. He was wearing a lot of make-up and I genuinely couldn’t decide if he was Tommy Joe gorgeous or nothing overly special. A stage door sighting later and I can confirm he’s really very nice to look at sans make-up. Just in case anyone was wondering. Probably horribly young though and I really don’t need another Charlie Hamblett (speaking of whom, he seems to have dropped off the face of the earth following The Tempest. Wonder what he’s up to now…)
Anyhoo, the stage door was far more successful than I’d expected, though I annoyingly missed David Page because I didn’t recognise him quickly enough – I was thrown by the hair, or lack of. Also, I’ve got a duff programme which doesn’t have Louise Gold in who played Berthe. She was (understandably) not happy, but I felt oddly responsible for drawing her attention to it. I’d have liked a picture with Matt Rawle but the timing was wrong so I didn’t bother. I did get one with Frances Ruffelle though. She was lovely and complimented me on my hair colour – it’s an odd shade at the moment, brown at my roots, with streaks about halfway down in the same colour. The pink is mostly faded, but there’s still a hint of it in amongst the brown streaks and the ends are blonde. It’s an odd fadey effect from root to tip that kinda reminds me of sunrise, but I do quite like it and apparently so does Francis. Go me. If only I’d done it on purpose .
Anyhoo, overall, despite my vague lack of understanding regarding the plot, I still thought it was a brilliant show with fantastic choreography, an awesome set design (and costumes), plus a fabulous cast. It’s an experience worth having if nothing else.
I was going to blog about last night’s trip to see Aladdin at the Lyric, Hammersmith, but honestly the less said about that the better. A brief overview of the evening, however, for posterity’s sake, is as follows; We got stuck in horrific traffic on the way back from Manchester and in the end we made it to the theatre with about three minutes to spare (fortunately, since we were literally front row centre). We ran the whole way from the car park and I then spent most of the first act coughing and wheezing. The woman next to me either out of irritation or kindheartedness took it upon herself to offer me a drink but just ended up spilling ribena all over my jeans. Fortunately it didn’t stain, but I wasn’t impressed. The show itself was, ummm, yeah. Not the best panto I’ve ever seen. That said, it did have its moments (several of which were clearly unscripted, but then you’d expect that of a panto) and Stevie Webb did make a damn good camp blue monkey. Why there was a camp blue monkey in it at all, I couldn’t say, but he did play the part very well. I also thought Abanazer (Simon Kunz) and Widow Twankey (Shaun Prendergast) were well cast. Stage door was reasonably successful in that I wasn’t really bothered about anyone except Stevie and I got my autograph and photo. I also bought my friend a monkey hand puppet (appropriately called Wishy Washy) and he made it into the picture with Stevie too. We were joking that I should always take a monkey for stage door pictures, but honestly it’s far too complicated. The programme, sharpie AND camera combination is already complicated enough without adding to it.
By the way, I’ve booked the first of many Hair on Tour (UK) tickets, front row for the Monday and Thursday in St Albans! All very exciting. At the moment I’m thinking two weekend trips to see it elsewhere, probably Birmingham and somewhere else, plus Tuesday and Wednesday in St Albans. For the latter two, I’m just waiting for a couple more people to buy tickets. At the moment they’re offering me exactly the same seat for all four nights and as wonderful as that seat has the potential to be, I do like a bit of variety. That said, I’d still like front row, ideally. Seems silly to pay the same amount for further back.
Anyhoo, I’ll keep an eye on it and see what happens. I need to get on with booking everything else before that anyway, between Paris and GILT, I really have enough to be arranging.
So with that in mind, I’d best get cracking, or at least get some sleep to enable a bit of cracking tomorrow!
Peace, loVe loVe and happiness,
PS. It took me about three attempts to type that sign-off. I’m typing on Steel on my way home and my thumbs have gone so numb I’m having real trouble pressing the right keys, or in fact, any keys at all. Ouch.
PPS. Oops, this wasn’t meant to be quite so long. Think I’m a bit out of practice!